4 Things I’ve Learned from Cross-Country Moves

My career path has taken me from my home city of Philadelphia, to rural Central Pennsylvania, to a small town in South Carolina, to the bustling metropolis of Chicago, IL. I have lived in places where it’s taken me about 5 minutes to get to everything, and other places where I’ve navigated both underground, public transportation and winding highway routes. Each time I have moved, I’ve learned something about myself. Since recently moving to one of my absolute favorite cities for what I know will be a nice, long while, I’m prompted to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned due to those cross-country moves. If you’ve recently moved, or are considering moving, here are a few lessons to look forward to:

1. How Resourceful You Can Be
My worldly accumulation of goods, furniture, and artwork is slim. Most of the time, it costs more to move my belongings than what they are worth. So, this means I’ve started over many times, with each move.

I came to Chicago with a few bags of clothes and the files / credentials I needed for work, but not much more. Many of the belongings I did have (books, kitchenware, art, etc) were in Philadelphia, and wouldn’t be moved to me for quite some time. In addition, there was the matter of furniture (both buying and the moving). I realized that none of this would be done quickly and I was working with a limited budget. So, I literally networked my way into a comfortable home. Through joining groups and lists, I had access to others in my area who were selling their used furnishings or original artwork at discounted rates. I rented a U-haul and took it across the city, finding friendly faces and willing arms in my network to help me move heavy furniture wherever it needed to go (since I picked up furniture at separate times, hiring movers wasn’t the most financially responsible move).

I furnished my space and made it comfortably by being resourceful and by packing light. However, I had to keep that internal monologue in check – the one that says, “You should have accumulated more. You should be using movers. You should… you didn’t… you can’t… you should…”

It’s easy to think about all of the things you should be doing, or the things you haven’t done yet when you move to a new place. However, the things you have done will show you just how badass and resourceful you are. Leasing a new place, making it comfortable, finding a new doctor, going to events to make new friends, researching the best price for auto repairs in your new city, learning new transportation routes, all require a certain amount of confidence and badassery to do in a place that you don’t call “home”. If you can, take a few moments to celebrate that!

2. How to Accept Help
My moves across country have all had this in common: I knew about 0 – 2 people in that place prior to moving. SO, I had to rely on my close friends to introduce me to their networks. The people who they introduced me to became the ones who would help me get acclimated to my new environment. I found myself relying on colleagues, coworkers, and neighbors for assistance.

This was no easy feat for someone as Type A as I am. It is one thing to accept help in a professional sense; there are already structures in place that make it possible and fairly easy. However, accepting help in my personal affairs was an experience that really stretched me.

I remember one occasion that I picked up a bed and a table from a local family. I was going to arrange for a mover, but there were 2 people that I knew in the area who agreed to help out. However, when the day come, both had emergency situations to attend to! So, there I sat in a U-Haul, with a bed, and a table…trying to figure out how I was going to move the items from the ground floor to the second floor of my building. All the moving companies were closed for the evening and I needed to have the rental truck back in approximately 3 hours. As I began to despair, a neighbor walked up to the truck.

I’m a city woman… born and raised in Philly. So, someone “walking up to your truck” isn’t immediately interpreted in my mind as salvation or assistance (though when I lived in a small town in South Carolina, this was often the case because most people in town knew each other). I mustered all of my discernment to decide whether or not the situation was safe, and after a short exchange (that included taking down license plate numbers – Mama didn’t raise no fool!), they offered to help me move the items into the building. Though I only had them move the items into the second floor lobby (because… safety… and too many episodes of Scandal & Law & Order), I realized that there would be moments where success in my next task would have to mean accepting the help of others.

3. How to Navigate Various Cultural Contexts
In one of the institutions I served, student affairs work meant also having a rudimentary understanding how various hunting seasons impacted programmatic attendance and / or residence life policies. In another institution, I needed to understand how students from various neighborhoods understood their city & the university’s impact on the city. In another, the expectation of a well placed ma’am or sir was just another part of life (though my identity as a woman of color and lack of trust in traditional gender roles made the practice too dicey for me to consistently engage in). The work that we do and the life that we lead is always situated in a sociocultural context. Moving to different states, countries, geographical regions, etc. allows us some great time to get used to various cultural contexts. It allows us time to see how these contexts impact the way we live our lives. In just a few years, I learned to identify the veracity of a sound by someone describing it to me in comparison to “a bellowing cow in a hailstorm” as compared to the “whoosh of a city train” that I was used to.

4. How to Listen to Your Gut
You become strangely in tune with yourself as you move to a new place, if you sit through the initial discomfort of it. It’s not elusive or incomprehensible: moving provides you with new scenarios to respond to… and with space to figure out what your responses mean. Moving allows you a new perspective, different things to pay attention to. For example, I can discern the feel of a neighborhood I am in by looking at the streets & sidewalks, the stores / type of stores / lack thereof… I took these things for granted in my home city.  I think that the opportunities to pay attention to your new scenario and your internal processes, ultimately develops your intuition, your “gut sense”.

It’s not a magic sense, but one that has developed as I have developed as a person. It’s a sense that carries me through each move. It was the eery feeling I got in a rural shop that alerted me to the fact that I was being followed. It was also what reminded me on what to do for my immediate safety in that scenario. It is what helps me find cool, new places, or spark conversations with kindred spirits. Moving has a way of putting you in touch with yourself and your own intuition, with plenty of opportunities to practice using it.

I cannot say that each move has been a fantastic and dazzling display. There have been quite a few hardships along the way. But those hardships have schooled me and in some ways, transformed me, into a more courageous, sufficient, and open human being. The cross-country moves were the conduits for those lessons!

How about you?! Are you thinking about moving, or will you be embarking on a move sometime soon? What are you excited about? What are you anxious about? What are you hoping to learn? If you’ve recently moved, what would you add to this list?

Image Credit: Corners & Crannies London, https://app.deathtothestockphoto.com/

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4 Things I’ve Learned from Cross-Country Moves by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

3 comments

  1. Great post Jade!

    My favorite move was to Germany for a summer internship. Those three months were the single most confidence-boosting and independence-giving of my entire life. I had a small suitcase. It was a different culture, different language, and learning a new company and coworkers. Those months changed me into the person I am now, and inspired a lot of dreams. There is no substitute for travel/moves, domestic or international.

    As an aside, it was fun to see how far I could get into conversations before people would realize I wasn’t a German. That was the most fun game I’ve been able to play, made possible by different languages 🙂

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  2. I’ve recently moved from the East coast out to Las Vegas and vice versa! I can say it has been the most exciting, trying and possibly rewarding time in my life. Having come back to the East coast is very refreshing though. I didn’t move back home do there are still some adjustments but being around more familiar terrain is uplifting. I’ve read this post twice now: once when I was in LV and now that I’ve moved back I just happened to come across it and read it again. Very true sentiments… Thanks for posting!

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    1. That is a LOT of transition! I’m glad that this post was able to speak to your experiences with moving twice in this span of time and I wish you all this best in this iteration of your life! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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